11 Effective Ways to Deal with a Difficult Boss

Difficult bosses are everywhere. At some point in your career, you’re likely to have a difficult boss. So, what do you do when you find yourself in this situation?

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Bosses are people, situations are different, and each boss may have a different management style. You may assume that bosses get management training or they’re hired because of their excellent management skills. But not everyone has great leadership skills. If you’ve been in the workplace for several years, you’ve most likely encountered a bad boss.

Some Difficult Boss Behaviors:

1) They don’t listen. It’s not uncommon for an employee to feel like their boss is ignoring or not hearing them. This can lead to frustration and anger by the employee.

2) They are too demanding. A boss who expects perfection from employees will often get it. If your difficult boss has unrealistic expectations, he or she may become frustrated when you can’t meet them.

3) They micromanage. The boss who tries to control every aspect of the work environment creates tension in the workplace. Employees may resent this type of behavior because they feel as though they are under constant scrutiny.

4) They are disrespectful. Many difficult bosses are rude and insensitive. They may belittle employees, use sarcasm, or even insult them behind their backs.

5) They are unsupportive. A good manager should support employees in times of need. He or she should also provide guidance and direction. However, a difficult boss who doesn’t offer any help will only add to the stress level at work.

6) They are critical. Criticism is one thing; criticism laced with negativity is another. An overly critical boss can cause employees to lose confidence in themselves.

Workplace Impacts of Having a Difficult Boss

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A difficult boss can have a negative impact on your work. It creates a toxic work environment that’s worse than you may realize. Here’s how a bad boss can create a negative environment and impact the team and workplace:

1) Increased stress.

2) Lower productivity.

3) Higher turnover rates.

4) Increased sick days and reduced job satisfaction.

5) Decreased performance.

6) Poor team building.

7) Increased employee burnout.

Read this: Creating Psychological Safety for a High-Performing Team

How to Deal with a Difficult Boss

If left alone, the situation will continue to get worse – either through ongoing stress or other more significant impacts. Use these tactics to take control of the situation when dealing with a bad boss. It may only take one action from this list below to turn the situation around. But using several can help you manage the challenging situation even better.  

1. Assess the Situation / Understand the Problem

The first step in dealing with a difficult boss is understanding the problem. What is driving the behavior? Is it a lack of respect, a power struggle, or something else? Once you have identified the problem, you can address it head-on.

Bosses have a lot on their plate. They’re dealing with demands from above that you may not know about. They may have a difficult personal issue. These things could cause them to act differently than usual or to make mistakes. Understanding their situation might help me better accept and cope with difficult situations.

Try to identify the root of the problem. Is your boss frustrated with your work style, your delivery dates, or is there something else going on? Consider what your boss is complaining about. Consider the political climate in the office or if other circumstances might contribute to the behavior.

Helpful to Read: How to Develop Empathy for Better Work Results

2. Don’t Take it Personally

It’s tough to deal with a difficult boss. Don’t take it personally. It’s work, and while the situation can be tough, it can make it harder if it creates negative emotions.

Be aware of how the behavior affects you emotionally. Manage your emotions around the behavior to maintain energy and reduce stress. 

Assess the situation objectively from your boss’s point of view. If you were in your boss’s shoes, how would you feel in this same situation?


How to Handle Negative Emotions at Work so You’re Always Calm Under Pressure

3. Don’t Let it Impact the Quality of Your Work

Don’t let your boss’s behavior affect your work. Avoid trying to get back at your boss by slacking off. Don’t produce low-quality work out of spite or frustration. Your boss may notice and in the long run, it will hurt you more.

4. Set Boundaries

Know your rights and what you can and cannot tolerate. Be clear about what you expect from the boss and yourself. Stick to your guns, even if it means standing up to the boss when necessary.

If your boss engages in personal attacks or treats you disrespectfully, let him know what you won’t tolerate.

I heard a story on a podcast years ago about a boss who was so mean he called his employees horrible and offensive names. One day they hired a new employee. During a regular high-stress meeting the boss called him offensive names just like he did to everyone else. The new employee said “I don’t know where you grew up, but where I come from, those are fighting words. Never call me that again.” Everyone fell silent, the boss looked at him for a moment, then continued with the meeting. The boss never changed his behavior with the other employees, but never called the new employee those terrible names again.

Master Your Assertive Communication Skills: Examples and Scripts Included

5: Take Responsibility where appropriate

You can never really change someone else’s behavior. But you can control your own. Once you assess the situation, you may see things you can change in your work to improve the situation. If you’re not meeting your boss’s expectations or standards, there may be an opportunity to improve or adjust.

Find out what your boss needs from you if there’s a miscommunication or misunderstanding.

6. Don’t gossip with peers.

As tempting as it may be, don’t bad-mouth your boss to others. You may have a trusted peer at work you seek advice or guidance from. Even in this situation, don’t speak disrespectfully about your boss. Say nothing you wouldn’t want her to hear. Assume anything you say could get back to her. It keeps you safe, and your integrity stays intact. 

7: Document as needed.

There may be times when you need to keep track of situations with work and your boss. Having a simple way to document or track these will help. If you think the situation will escalate or you will need to reference specific situations, write the date and what happened. Hopefully, the situation will never merit having the pull up these records. But if it’s bad enough, you’ll find them helpful.

For example, if you mention to your boss that she’s asked you to work late five times this month, and she denies it, you can easily reference the dates.

8. Communicate Effectively.

Effective communication means you share your concerns clearly, you’re specific about the problem, and you and your boss understand one another.

It’s essential to ensure your boss understands your concerns. Be clear about your expectations and be willing to compromise when appropriate to maintain a good working relationship.

Let your boss know exactly what the offending behavior is. Be behavior-specific when discussing your concerns. You might say “you micromanage” but it’s even better if you can give specific instances or ways that she does it. 

Let your boss know the negative impacts of her behavior. If it erodes trust or morale, let her know. She likely hasn’t considered this before. 

Making sure you know your manager’s preferred communication styles can also help you communicate better with him/her. If she prefers concise emails rather than long face-to-face discussions, do that where possible. The better you understand your manager, the more successful your relationship will be.

9. Stay Professional

Even if you’re feeling overwhelmed and frustrated with your boss, stay professional. Keep your voice calm and your temper in check. 

10. Don’t gossip with peers.

As tempting as it may be, don’t bad-mouth your boss to others. You may have a trusted peer at work you seek advice or guidance from. Even in this situation, don’t speak disrespectfully of your boss. Say nothing you wouldn’t want her to hear. You never know what will get back to her. And your peers will respect you for it and trust you more.

11. Take Other Action

If you have exhausted all of your efforts and your manager continues to behave badly, you may need to escalate. I’ve seen sexual harassment situations and managers who throw things. Anger management issues can get out of hand. You don’t need to handle those situations on your own. Check to see what your company policy is for these situations.

And if the stress or challenge gets too bad, you may need to resign from your position or go outside of your company to talk to a professional. It is important to do what is best for you and your career, and taking this type of action may be the best way to get what you need.


Team Appreciation

Dealing with a difficult boss can be tough, but it’s not impossible. These tips will help you improve your work situation, and you’ll be able to perform better and enjoy your work more. You’ll be on your way to having a better relationship with your boss and a less stressful work life!

 Related: 7 Steps for Dealing with a Difficult Team Member


  1. Suzanne October 5, 2023
  2. Tasha January 8, 2023

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